Category Archives: Workers’ Compensation

Hear Recent America’s Truckin’ Network Podcasts on Truckers: Prescriptions and Workers’ Comp

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Last week, Rehm, Bennett & Moore owner Rod Rehm was featured on America’s Truckin’ Network, which is an overnight show that runs on both Sirius/XM channel 166 and 700 WLW-AM out of Cincinnati. Mr. Rehm and show host Mr. Steve Sommers discussed some of the nuances of workers’ compensation law when it comes to drivers, specifically focusing on issues like the special challenges truck drivers have in taking prescription drugs if they’re hurt. The requirements of the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (USDOT FMCSA) rules and regulations make this topic more complicated for truckers.

During that time, the two also took truckers’ calls and discussed topics that included details about workers’ compensation injuries; when to get an attorney involved; the overuse of opiates in the legal world; and more about work injury and drug interactions/intoxication. Mr. Rehm elaborates on this information, providing more details in the podcasts linked to below. 

America’s Truckin’ Network runs from 11 p.m. through 4 a.m. (midnight to 5 a.m. Eastern Time) on 700 WLW-AM, and we greatly appreciate the chance to help educate truckers about workers’ compensation matters. For questions about a specific injury or workers’ compensation claim, please contact an attorney. Mr. Rehm has represented truckers for over 30 years, 15 of which have been through the website www.truckerlawyers.com.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Workers’ Compensation May Cover Weight Loss Treatment, Surgery

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Gastric bypass is one type of weight loss surgery

Obesity is a disease that affects Americans in many ways.

Workers’ compensation is affected by obesity as well. A work injury or disease, coupled with chronic obesity, frequently becomes much more difficult to deal with. The usual methods of treatment may not be possible for an injured worker living with chronic obesity. 

Thomas A. Robinson, a noted expert on workers’ compensation, recently posted a great discussion on obesity treatment. The well-written article discusses how various state workers’ compensation systems deal with these problems. The short answer is some states award benefits for treating obesity as part of the work injury, and some don’t. Nebraska and Iowa have cases denying gastric bypass surgery based on factual findings that it was not necessary to treat the work injury, but leaving to door open with more proof of medical necessity. 

Our firm has had at least one case where gastric bypass surgery was paid voluntarily when it was apparent the surgery was necessary to enable proper treatment of a serious work injury. A workers’ compensation trial award was entered in early January awarding gastric bypass surgery as necessary to reduce weight so a back surgery could be performed safely. This award reinforces that with proof of medical necessity to treat a work injury, weight loss treatment and surgery may be covered by workers’ compensation in Nebraska.

Is Worker’s Comp Profitable Because Disabled Workers Don’t Get Benefits?

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My friend Tom Domer of The Domer Law Firm in Milwaukee, who happens to be one of the most knowledgeable workers’ compensation lawyers I know, wrote a great blog post explaining why workers’ compensation insurance companies profit mightily and injured workers struggle. Workers need to avoid the kind of thinking that leaves them with empty pockets and insurance companies with growing bank accounts. Injured workers should speak with qualified experienced lawyers before deciding whether to pursue workers’ compensation benefits or to abandon a claim if they are being denied.

I recently wrote an article in the national magazine for the Worker’s Injury Law Advocacy Group (WILG), the Worker’s First Watch, Fall 2013 reviewing the worker’s compensation resources research report indicating that the worker’s compensation industry is extremely profitable.  I began representing injured workers in 1976.  It seems every year since then worker’s compensation insurance carriers have complained they are not making profits and the culprit responsible is increased benefits paid to workers.  In fact, over the last 20 years the insurance industry has been profitable in 16 of 19 years and broke even in one year.  Several factors account for this profitability, including worker’s compensation insurance carriers successfully pursuing deregulation and “reform” measures to restrict eligibility. 

The net result of increasingly restrictive rules for compensability in many State worker’s compensation systems as a result of “reform” resulted in many workers with disabilities caused by work who did not receive worker’s compensation benefits.

The general trend since the early 1990s has been to restrict coverage through State statutory and administrative “reform”.  Many workers face lengthy litigation and frustration.  More restrictive regulations may preclude claims where the worker lacks “objective” medical evidence for his injury, or is unable to medically document persistent pain, or has a disease resulting from multiple causation that cannot be distinguished from workplace disease, or has job stress related disorders.  One significant problem is that many injured workers fail to file for benefits.  (For those of us in the trenches daily, these pose obstacles to compensability.)  Among the many reasons for failure to file are:

  • Ignorance of worker’s compensation and eligibility.
  • Ignorance of the work-relatedness of the condition.  (Many workers know they suffer an impairment but do not know the health condition is caused by work.)
  • Reimbursement for medical care or Short Term Disability benefits available.  (Many workers use Short Term Disability or group medical insurance rather than worker’s comp.)
  • Belief that the injury is lacking in sufficient severity.
  • Many workers fear job loss or other forms of retaliation, who do not want to report a condition as work-related.
  • Workers do not want to be perceived as complainers or careless.
  • Deciding not to file based on the negative experience of co-workers.
  • Fear of the stigma associated with being a worker’s compensation claimant.  (Much of this stems from the intense focus on fraud perpetrated by the insurance industry, resulting in increased levels of stigmatization, decreasing the likelihood injured workers will file for benefits.)
  • Pressure from co-workers on safety incentive programs.  (These programs, sometimes called “Safety Bingo” create incentives not to report.)

Those of us who have hearings daily that involve the non-reporting of an injury, or significant time delay between the occurrence of an injury and the reporting of an injury, can refer to the above list for some ammunition on the “non-filing” or “late filing” issues.

Mileage Reimbursement Set at 56 Cents per Mile for 2014

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Getting reimbursed for mileage and travel expenses is often part of the medical process in a workers’ compensation claim. However, it’s essential to keep detailed receipts and have a plan for submitting those expenses in a timely manner.

The federal government has set the 2014 mileage reimbursement rate to 56 cents per mile. This rate was effective Jan. 1, 2014. This is a decrease from 56.5 cents per mile last year, but the price of gasoline is also slightly cheaper.

Generally speaking, the federal rate changes annually. However, when gas prices went soaring in 2008, a mid-year increase went into effect.

As a reminder from a blog post that firm partner Todd Bennett wrote in 2011, injured workers can be reimbursed for activities such as “travel to seek medical treatment, pick up medications, or while participating in a vocational rehabilitation plan.”

The best way to do this is to work with your attorney and legal assistant to keep track of all mileage. This can include appointments for Independent Medical Exams (IME), too. Then your attorney can help you get reimbursed. 

It is often essential to save receipts and keep a record for yourself of your doctor’s visits and other reimbursable trips, including physical therapy and trips to pick up medication. Providing that log to your attorney and saving receipts incurred from specific doctor visits and other reimbursable trips creates a “narrative” that makes it easier to justify those expenses.

Because money is always tight for injured workers, contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney if you have questions about a specific situation.

Facebook Pictures’ Use Evolving in Workers’ Compensation Cases

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In the past, I have warned about the possible pitfalls of social media on a workers’ compensation claim.

However, the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court has never really ruled on Facebook in the context of discovery matters in a work comp claim, meaning how much access can your employer have to your Facebook account if you file a workers’ compensation claim? 

Recently, however, the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court (at least one judge) has taken the position that in order for your employer to gain access to photographs from your Facebook profile, it must “make a showing of the necessary factual predicate underlying [the] broad request for access.” In other words, your employer must have a decent reason to suspect that a certain photograph or something from your Facebook account has the potential to be relevant to the work comp case before the court will simply grant full access to your Facebook account to your employer.

Therefore, depending on your situation, your Facebook may be safe from your employer to some degree. However, this is a cautionary tale to remind you that even though your employer cannot simply have blanket access to all of your Facebook photos – at least according to one Nebraska judge – it does not mean that your Facebook photos or posts are necessarily safe from your employer gaining access to them at some point during your work comp case. I think the judge in this case takes a step in right direction, but you still must be aware that anything you put on Facebook may be subject to discovery (i.e., your employer may still possibly get access to it) at some point in the future.

What is Workers’ Compensation Law in Nebraska?

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Before workers’ compensation was an option in Nebraska, injured workers could only sue their employers under tort law for damages. While providing complete compensation – i.e., damages such as those for pain and suffering were available – it also required proof of negligence, and claims were often barred by affirmative defenses such as assumption of the risk and contributory negligence. For more than 100 years now, injured workers have had the protection of workers’ compensation laws that provide for no-fault benefits that are received quickly, and employers can avoid more expensive court challenges.

The Nebraska workers’ compensation system includes a dedicated court, and Nebraska is one of the only states to have this avenue for injured workers.

There are several different types of benefits that an injured worker is entitled to:

1.      Benefits to manage or cure the injury: includes hospital, doctor, chiropractic and physical therapy costs. This also includes the costs of diagnostic testing, doctor-prescribed medicine (even if it’s over-the-counter) and items like braces.

2.      Compensation while temporarily disabled: These payments of two-thirds of an injured worker’s average weekly wage may start after an injured worker has been off work for seven days, and usually an injured worker continues to collect payments – either for total or partial disability – while he or she is convalescing until a doctor signs off on a full return to work and/or places an injured worker at maximum medical improvement.

3.      Compensation for permanent injuries: These benefits are two-thirds of an injured workers’ average weekly wage (or wages earned in a 40-hour work week for part-time workers) and are available after an injured worker has reached maximum medical improvement. These benefits may be for permanent impairment to a specific body part or may be to compensate for an injured worker’s loss of earning ability. This distinction depends on the type of injury. Benefits may also be partial or total, depending on the type and degree of injury.

4.      Vocational rehabilitation: These are services provided under Nebraska workers’ compensation law to injured workers when, as a result of a compensable injury, the injured worker is unable to perform suitable work for which he or she has previous training or experience. This may include job placement and retraining. 

5.      Death benefits: If a worker dies as a result of his or her injury, that worker is entitled to medical expenses as well as burial expenses up to $10,000.  The deceased worker’s dependents are also entitled to benefits, which vary depending on the circumstances.

If the system worked the way it was supposed to, employers (or their insurance companies) would pay injured workers, pay the medical bills, and focus on getting the worker either back to work or moving on with the best quality of life possible. The reality is that employers (and their insurance companies) don’t always see eye-to-eye with doctors’ opinions or treatment recommendations, or follow work restrictions. Speaking with an experienced attorney when navigating the workers’ compensation system can reassureinjured workers and their loved ones and make a very stressful time a little less difficult.

Different states have workers’ compensation systems that vary, but all, to some extent, are intended to protect injured workers. If there are questions, please contact the firm and provide the details to an attorney who can advise on the best steps to take for each specific situation.

Are Firefighter Cancer Deaths an Occupational Disease?

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Workers’ compensation has provided benefits or coverage for occupational diseases for generations. Occupational disease is defined by Nebraska law as: “a disease which is due to causes and conditions which are characteristic of and peculiar to a particular trade, occupation, process, or employment and excludes all ordinary diseases of life to which the general public is exposed.” This is a typical definition of an occupational disease. Some examples of recognized occupational diseases are black lung disease for miners, mesothelioma for asbestos workers, lung disease for rubber workers, and leukemia for workers exposed to benzene.  

More studies are done to determine the cause of diseases as medical science advances. A recent study concludes that smoke and chemical exposure by firefighters may cause higher rates of cancer among firefighters. Firefighters, while usually healthier than the general population, have a higher incidence of cancer. More studies need to be done to determine if the peculiar exposure to smoke causes or aggravates cancer.

As medicine and science evolve, there may be more recognized “occupational diseases” and more workers and their families compensated for harm caused by the workplace.

$46 Million Stolen: 2013′s Top Ten Workers’ Compensation Fraud Cases

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Professor Leonard T. Jernigan Jr. has compiled a list of 2013′s Top 10 Workers’ Compensation Fraud Cases

Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan from The Jernigan Law Firm in North Carolina. It is unfortunate that this article is necessary, but I appreciate the important work Mr. Jernigan does to compile these fraud cases each year. Because it makes for very interesting reading and reminds folks that fraud occurs on both sides of the workers’ compensation debate.

Employee fraud seems to get headlines, but employer fraud occurs on a much larger economic scale. As Mr. Jernigan points out, it’s the workers and taxpayers who are on the hook with employer fraud when an employee gets hurt and doesn’t have the coverage that they expected. But it is also worth noting that this year (for the first time in the five years Mr. Jernigan has compiled this list), an employee is in the top 10. As noted below, “the record is now 49-1 (employer fraud v. employee fraud) over the past five years.” I find this important food for thought as we begin a new year.

Employer Fraud Cases (9):$44,962,492.00
Employee Fraud Cases (1): $1,500,000.00
Total: $46,462,492.00

Every year we hear about fraud in Workers’ Compensation cases and the public believes the fraud is employee driven. However, in 2009 I began tracking the Top Ten Fraud Cases and 100% of the Top Ten between 2009-2012 involved employers or shady characters posing as legitimate businesses. The amount of employer fraud is staggering. In 2013 one employee fraud case did crack the Top Ten, so the record is now 49-1 (employer fraud v. employee fraud) over the past five years.

  1. Florida: Owners of Diaz Supermarkets in Miami-Dade are Accused of $35 Million Fraud (4/16/13)

    John Diaz

    John Diaz and his wife Mercedes Avila-Diaz owned and operated four supermarkets in the Miami-Dade area. They have been arrested and accused of workers’ compensation fraud and other fraudulent transactions totaling $35 million. One business they operated had no coverage for employees for ten years. They allegedly engaged in a scam to help subcontractors obtain false certificates of insurance that allowed the subs to work for general contractors who required the certificates.

  2. California: Hanford Farm Labor Contractor Convicted of Fraud in the Amount of $4,195,900 (12/6/2013)

    Richard Escamilla, Jr.

    Richard Escamilla, Jr. (47), owner of ROC Harvesting, misrepresented information to workers’ compensation insurance carriers by using new business names to obtain insurance and avoid providing a claim history. Escamilla pleaded guilty on October 29th and was sentenced to pay restitution of $4.1 million and serve six years in prison.

  3. Michigan: Insurance Executive Embezzled $2.6 Million from Workers’ Comp TPA (06/06/2013)

    Jerry Stage

    Jerry Stage (67), the former CEO of a non-profit workers’ compensation insurance company, and George Bauer (55), the bookkeeper, both pleaded guilty to embezzling from the Compensation Advisory Organization of Michigan (CAOM) for more than a decade. Mr. Stage embezzled $2.6 million from the company and conspired with Mr. Bauer to cover up the embezzlement.

  4. California: Employee Wasn’t Wheelchair Bound After All – Fraudulently Took $1.5 Million in Benefits (8/9/13)

    Yolandi Kohrumel

    Yolandi Kohrumel, 35, claimed for nine years that she was wheelchair bound after complications from toe surgery, but after she had collected $1.5 million in benefits it was revealed her claim was false. Her father, a South African native, was also engaged in the scam. Both pleaded guilty to insurance fraud, grand theft and perjury. Ms Kohrumel was sentenced to one year in jail, plus restitution.

  5. California: Father and Son Landscapers Accused of $1.45 Million in Insurance Fraud (5/7/13)

    Sunshine Landscaping

    Jesse Garcia Contreras (57) and Carlos Contreras (33), who operate a Thousand Palms landscaping business, are accused of committing $1.45 million in insurance fraud. They are accused of defrauding the California State Compensation Insurance Fund by misclassifying employees from January 2008 to March 2012. Mr. Jesse Contreras is the president and CEO of Sunshine Landscaping and his son is Director of Accounting. If convicted, they each face up to 19 years and 8 months in prison.

  6. Florida: Workers’ Compensation Check Cashing Operation Charged with $1 Million in Fraud (2/27/13)

    As a result of its investigation of I&T Financial Services, LLC, a company that was allegedly set up to execute a large scale check cashing scheme for the purpose of evading the cost of workers’ compensation coverage. Domenick Pucillo, the ringleader of the fraud scheme, was arrested and charged with filing a false and fraudulent document, forgery, uttering a forged instrument, and operating an unlicensed money service business. If convicted on all charges, he faces up to 45 years in prison. $1 million was seized during this investigation.

  7. California & North Carolina: Cleaning Company Owner Convicted of Underreporting Payroll and Ordered to Pay $898,000 (8/3/2013)

    L. D. Hardas, President of Awesome Products Inc., said support from the community and the state was key to bringing his company to Mount Airy.

    The president of Awesome Products, a cleaning company in California, was convicted and sentenced for underreporting his payroll by over $8 million, resulting in a premium loss of $898,000. Loksarang Dinkar Hardas (53) was sentenced to five years in state prison, stayed pending successful completion of 10 years of formal probation, a $250,000 fine, and restitution payment of $898,000. Notwithstanding his conviction, the town of Mount Airy, N.C was standing by Mr. Hardas and willing to give his company taxpayer money in hopes that Awesome Products would build a manufacturing facility and create jobs in Surry County, N.C.

  8. West Virginia: Coal Company Contractor in Mingo County Caught in $405,000 Scam to Avoid Workers’ Comp Premiums (11/6/13)

    Bank of Mingo

    Jerame Russell (50), an executive with Aracoma Contracting, LLC, a company that provided labor to coal companies on a contract basis, entered a guilty plea to a scam that involved funneling over $2 million through a local bank to pay employees in cash, thus avoiding payroll taxes and $405,000 in workers’ compensation premiums. Aracoma also bribed an insurance auditor to cover up its true payroll.

  9. Ohio: Roofing Business Owners Guilty of $283,592 in Workers’ Comp Fraud (7/30/2013)

    Frederick Diebert

    The owners of Triple Star Roofing were found guilty of fraud on July 15 for failing to report payroll to the Ohio Bureau or Workers’ Compensation(BWC). The company failed to report to the BWC from 2004 to 2008, resulting in under-reported premiums of $283,592.

  10. Florida: Owner of Staffing Company arrested for $130,000 in Workers’ Comp Fraud

    Preferred Staffing of America, Inc.

    The owner of Preferred Staffing of America, Inc., a temporary staffing agency in Tampa, has been arrested for allegedly running an organized workers’ compensation fraud scheme. Preferred Staffing’s owner misled clients into believing that his company was a licensed professional employer organization (PEO) and could provide workers’ compensation insurance coverage. Employers were reportedly charged more than $130,000 for workers’ compensation insurance and other services that were never provided.

For more information, contact: Leonard T. Jernigan, Jr. Adjunct Professor of Workers’ Compensation N.C. Central School of Law The Jernigan Law Firm 2626 Glenwood Avenue, Suite 330 Raleigh, North Carolina 27608 (919) 833-0299 ltj@jernlaw.com www.jernlaw.com @jernlaw